Recently a friend of ours was doing one of New Zealand’s great walks. Afterwards he expressed his sadness that, although the walk was beautiful, there was far less birdsong than he expected. Introduced stoats and rats have diminished the native bird population over time. Conservation attempts are under way to turn around situations like this, but the predators have done considerable damage. Maybe there is a parallel here with human singing too.
Who tells a five year old child she can’t sing? Devastating! So much so that five years later that young person tells me that she hasn’t sung since then, and gives me a convincing demonstration of how she lip-syncs when ‘singing’ at school!
I often encourage my pupils to sing at their piano lessons as part of hearing the tune, feeling the music and simply enjoying a new song they are learning to play with notes on a keyboard. So you can imagine I was a bit stunned with this unusual response to my simple request to sing the lyrics.
I say unusual, but sadly it seems to me that children are far more inhibited these days to sing with their piano pieces than they were ten years ago. I suspect that children are growing up now with more pre-recorded music. There is a definite place for that, but perhaps parents sing less with their children – probably because they sing less themselves. I don’t have scientific evidence to back this up, but I do observe that more children struggle to sing in tune, or are more self-conscious and reluctant to sing when it should be a natural part of life and certainly helpful when learning a musical instrument.
We need to let our young ones find their voice early on. My 6 month old granddaughter, Naomi, has been practicing her skills lately to everyone’s delight. Her vocal range goes from an impressively low growl to notes even higher than her mother’s brilliant soprano. (I am sure she is practicing her whistle notes like Mariah Carey 😊.) Naomi’s best examples of this were recorded while she was experimenting with notes on the piano. Interesting. Watch this space!
As I thought about my young friend and the teacher who had criticised her, I considered how any of us can say hurtful things at times when we might not even know it. Being a teacher needs extra care. It is a sacred privilege and the things we say absolutely matter. “Try a little kindness”- the old song by Glen Campbell comes to mind.
So I’m on a bit of a mission now to gently restore a nearly lost skill in a budding pianist who fortunately is clearly passionate about learning the piano and even creating her own music at it. I’m no great singer myself, but I still like to sing and write songs at the piano. I was able to share a little of the importance of singing as part of her music learning. Along with that I pointed out that if she gives in to the comment spoken five years ago, the lie wins! I think she got that. I hope so.